Behind alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used psychoactive and addictive drug in the United States. Use of marijuana is increasing in nearly all age cohorts, but is rising most rapidly among 18–25 year olds. The prevalence of marijuana use is predicted by attitudes and beliefs regarding its safety. As attitudes shift towards a belief that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug, more people are using it, and the age of initiation is also declining. One of the perceived risk factors is the negative effect that smoking marijuana has on one’s lungs and cardiovascular system. It is nearly identical to the concerns that caused a consistent decline in cigarette smoking. Clearly, perceived risk influences behavior, and is formed and fostered by knowledge familial teaching, role modeling, cultural and community norms and personal beliefs.
Vaping and Its Dangers
Vaping has recently emerged as a novel drug delivery system which offers many advantages to smoking, and thus alleviates much of the very rational fear associated with inhaling hot smoke, much of which is contaminated with harmful pesticides and other toxins. In this recently published work by Frohe and colleagues, the investigators focused their research on an individual’s knowledge, or perceived knowledge of the “product” including the drug and the drug delivery device. Vape pens, as they are commonly called, have become popular in the U.S. as an alternative to cigarette smoking and more recently marijuana. The outcome of this changing perception has alleviated many objections due to health concerns.
As state laws and policies germane to marijuana use have been liberalized, beliefs that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug have increased among nearly all age groups. Recent evidence has substantiated this belief and has translated into behavioral change, e.g., vape-pen use among young adults (18–35 year olds) has increased dramatically since 2013.
The survey data collected for this paper was culled from over 200 colleges demographically representative of the U.S. collegiate population.
Here is a summary of the findings:
- More cannabis use was related to higher odds of cannabis vape-pen use.
- Vape-pen use for cannabis was related to alcohol use.
- Each drink per drinking day related to 12 times greater likelihood of cannabis vape-pen use.
- Higher cannabis injunctive norms and expectancies predicted cannabis vape-pen use.
- Knowledge of cannabis vape-pens was associated with lack of premeditation.
Why Does This Matter?
Marijuana is a highly addictive drug associated with multiple co-morbidities, including psychosis, depression, schizophrenia and early death among persistent adult users. Changing the delivery device is like playing whack-a-mole with one’s health. Reducing one harmful effect does nothing to lessen the severity of the overall risks, particularly the cognitive and neuropathic changes associated with marijuana consumption.
It is vitally important that health providers are educated on the risk factors regarding cannabis use and advise their patients accordingly. Certainly, it is difficult to keep up with the research and to discern the fact from fiction. But the cost of losing another teen or young adult to psychosis secondary to cannabis use is simply too high regardless of how they may have consumed it.
Frohe T, Leeman RF, Patock-Peckham J, Ecker A, Kraus S, Foster DW. Correlates of cannabis vape-pen use and knowledge among U.S. college students.Addict Behav Rep. 2017 Nov 21;7:32-39. doi: 10.1016/j.abrep.2017.11.004. eCollection 2018 Jun.